Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Imagine yourself as a colonial living in New York during the 18th century. The American Nation, as we know it today, had yet to be formed. As an American colonist you are still a subject of King George III. As a colonial you are required to pay taxes yet, you have no political representation in the House of Parliament, giving rise to the rallying cry "No taxation without representation." As an act of protest, the Americans decided to brew a very big cup of tea in Boston Harbor. Not to be out done, the British enacted more laws collectively known as the Intolerable Acts, which caused further unrest in America. The stage was set for the American War for Independence.

In the town square folks would gather to listen to speakers voicing their opinion about the situation that was brewing (pun intended). In one corner you could listen to a speaker advocating remaining loyal to the British Crown while nearby another speaker was calling for complete independence from England. If you wanted to hear the opinions of the day, or if you wanted to express your own thoughts, the town square was the place to be.

That town square still exists today. It has evolved, locally, into Queens Public Television (QPTV), Channels 34, 35, 56 and 57, where each day hundreds of Queens Residents exercise their First Amendment right to speak freely. Yesterday's soapbox is today's digital community channels. There are hundreds of voices speaking in over a dozen different languages to thousands of viewers. The town square has grown up and gone digital and is now part of the "global village". King George may be a faded memory, but there is still a need for the community to make its voice heard. We may not always agree with the speaker, but we must recognize the speaker's right to express their ideas unencumbered.

In a society that is as diverse as ours there are bound to be voices whose message we would prefer not to hear. As a community television station, QPTV is not permitted to play the role of a censor or arbiter of good taste. We live in an era where through a process of self-censorship everyone seems to be striving towards political correctness. However, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides protection for the politically incorrect. The speech that needs the greatest protection is the speech that we all wish would go away; the speech that offends our moral sensibilities. Never are we a captive audience tied to our chairs and forced to watch, the power of choice remains ours, and we are free to change the channel or to turn our TV sets off. But I would also add that, because one can say something does not mean that one should say something. The controversy involving comments made by radio host Don Imus illustrates this point. Those who dare to speak the unspeakable must also be willing to withstand the public outcry from those who may disagree with them.

Controversial programs always get the most attention, while other programs are overlooked. One example is the large number of foreign language programs that can be found on QPTV's channels. For many foreign language speakers QPTV is the one place they can turn to find information in their native tongue about issues relating to health, immigration and education. There are programs produced by senior adults and programs produced for senior adults. You will find programs that will make you laugh and programs that may make you cry. Theses programs are produced by your next door neighbor, your dentist, your son or daughter's schoolteacher, firemen, police officers, bodega owners, Imams, Rabbis and Reverends.

In a world where technology governs our lives more than ever, I find myself concerned with how that technology is enhancing our ability to communicate with each other. With improved technology we can communicate faster with cell phones and the Internet, but what about the quality of the message? Email and text messaging rule the day but are we really saying anything of import to each other? Remember that technology should enhance our ability to communicate and perhaps advance the society as a whole as happened with the invention of the wheel, or the discovery of flight. Technology has expanded the town square to global proportions and the speakers are numerous and the voices are diverse.
The concept of Free Speech is one of our National Treasures. Help protect the global town square by supporting your local community channels. Join us in the digital town square, where there is always a lively discussion taking place.

"If the fires of freedom and civil liberties burn low in other lands, they must be made brighter in our own. If in other lands the press and books and literature of all kinds are censored, we must redouble our efforts here to keep them free."

- Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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